Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Simple Book Review: A Brief History of Time (From Big Bang to Black Holes)

A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (first published 1988)
by Stephen Hawking

On the back cover of this book, “Was there a beginning of time? Could time run backwards? Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries?” These three questions sparked neutrons in my curious mind. At first I wasn’t interested in Stephen Hawking, not until I watched Youtube video Brilliant Minds: Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Hawking (particularly, because I’m interested first in the life of Einstein). And after recalled watching 2014 movie Theory of Everything based on Jane Hawking’s book Travelling to Infinity, I get to know more about his life and works.

Hawking, now renowned astrophysicist, born in 1942 exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo (FYI: right after Galileo died, Isaac Newton was born). He studied physics at Oxford University and then further his studies at Cambridge. When he was 21 years old he was diagnosed as having ALS or known as Motor Neurone Disease (that’s why you see him on the wheel chair and communicate using a program called Living Center). Among many of his accomplishments, one that fascinate me is that he holds Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambrigde, a post once held by the great scientist, Isaac Newton.

This Hawking’s first book for nonspecialist, holds rewards of many kinds for the lay audience,” introduce Carl Sagan, “As interesting as the book’s wide-ranging contents is the glimpse it provides into the workings of its author’s mind. In this book are lucid revelations on the frontiers of physics, astronomy, cosmology, and courage.” Hawking in this book wish to write a book for “people without a scientific education can understand,” he continues, “This is what I have attempted to do in this book. The reader must judge whether I have succeeded.” Hmmm… I don’t know…

Well Mr. Hawking… for the first parts of this book [chapter #1 Our Picture of the Universe, #2 Space and Time, and #3 The Expanding Universe] I do understand some great deal, then I stated to lost in the midst and skipped lots of pages [chapter #4 The Uncertainty Principle, #5 Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature, #8 The Origin and Fate of the Universe, and #9 The Arrow of Time] and totally black out in chapters #6 Black Holes, and #7 Black Holes Ain’t So Black. Chapter #10 The Unification of Physics, is the most interesting to my mind. A theory of everything – the Theory – that try to combine quantum mechanics with general relativity is much sort after theory both by Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking himself. “...If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God.”

The origin and the end of the universe, the Big Bang and the Big Crunch, the nature of time and boundaries of space in the universe, the existence of God or not at all. These and many more of cosmological physics were explained with clarity (in his mind and most of the reviewers, but not necessarily to me) and wit. “I resolved not to have any equations at all,” writes Hawking, “however, I did put in one equation, Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2.” Even so, Mr. Hawking, I wish that this book can be simpler. I think Michio Kaku is better and Brian Greene clearer, not in term of intelligent, but in how to explain physics simpler to non-scientific, general readers. Nevertheless, I enjoy reading this book. It make me [feel] smarter.

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